RAGING BULL -- AMC Carrollton, DuPont Circle, Old Town, Roth's Randolph, Roth's Tysons Center, Roth's Silver Spring West and the Showcase Bradlick.
The Hollywood holiday blitz is one of the more recent Christmas traditions. This year the celluloid studios sent us an even dozen -- the Twelve Flicks of Christmas, you might say -- but two of them arrived (as some Christmas cards do) just too late to respond to.
"I am not an animal," the hero of "Raging Bull" keeps saying. But repetitive evidence in this film about boxer Jake La Motta indicates that he is.
It's not his profession so much as his out-of-the-ring life, pitiful as it is, that illustrates this. After a brief period of mating, his only interest in his wife is territorial. What has passed for fraternal affection turns out to be a passing alliance to hunt a living together. He cannot regulate his food intake, even temporarily. He is incapable of planning or generalizing from experience. Even for an animal, he is singularly lacking in cunning and complexity.
La Motta cooperated with this presentation of himself. For the producers, Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, it's another bid to repeat their success of "Rocky" and, to a lesser extent, "Rocky II," by repeating the theme of the inarticulate, declining fighter. (The character of "Rocky," however, was poetic compared to that of La Motta -- Rocky had a human emotion or two, and occasionally uttered a complete declarative sentence.)
But the ruling force here is obviously that of Martin Scorsese, the director, who has subordinated all other considerations to his decidedly artistic view. It is, however, not a view of life, La Motta's or anyone else's, but a distillation of his view of other movies.
For example, one can see practically nothing of what boxing is about, although at least eight fights are shown. Each is a segment of faces being punched and spurting blood, not much different from a street brawl. Personal life, too, is reduced to meaningless fragments. Such potentially dramatic material as the conflict a simple Catholic boy would have had in getting a divorce in the 1940s is entirely skipped.
The film alternates between ring and kitchen or nightclub, repeating the same things about each over and over again. It's hard to imagine a life so completely without growth of any kind. What the picture offers instead is a dubious tribute to "On the Waterfront," in that a sub-theme of that film is taken as this one's text and then left undeveloped, and a cinemagraphic development of the techniques of 1940s newsreels.
The latter is extremely well done. In black-and-white film, the jumpy quality of the quick smart-alecky look at sports events and bathing-beauty parades ios made into something almost beautiful. The acting styles of Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty and Joe Pesci, the ultimate naturalism of people repeatedly caught doing and saying nothing in particular, are successfully in keeping with this view.